Occasionally an experience brings me up short. I was in a meeting focused on vision formulation. In previous meetings we prepared for this one. Each session was inspiring. These people were clearly talented and sincere, they wanted a real vision. Now we were very near to the actual specification of the vision. I asked each person to reflect on our previous insights and the possible future. Then I invited them to share their key impressions.
To my surprise, each person spoke of some logistical problem that had to be solved in order to move forward. Each point was legitimate but the exploration was now off track. If I allowed them to continue, they would have created a series of problem solving strategies. There would be no vision of an alternative future. The organization would continue to do what it had been doing. We made adjustments and progressed nicely. Yet I continually return to the experience. It was a potent illustration of the natural tendency in each of us. Based on much research, social scientists assume that people are path dependent. Here is an explanation:
Path dependence is the idea that decisions we are faced with depend on past knowledge trajectory and decisions made, and are thus limited by the current competence base. In other words, history matters for current decision-making situations and has a strong influence on strategic planning (Financial Times Lexicon).
According to this assumption, people tend to be reactive and the present tends to be determined by the past. Reliance on existing knowledge and current competencies leads us to favor knowing over learning, and compliance over creation. Our strategic vision and planning is often reactive rather than strategic.
I often ask, “When does the future determine the present?”
The answer is, when we have a purpose to which we are truly committed. When we imagine and commit to a desired future, the desired future begins to determine what we do in the present. When we wed a future, we break with convention. We begin to engage in unconventional actions and a new future begins to emerge. When we are purpose driven we are still influenced by our past but we are no longer prisoners. We integrate knowledge with desire and it takes us off the path of least resistance. We move from problem solving to purpose finding. This gives rise to learning and creation.
- In your life, how much time do you spend solving problems and how much time clarifying your highest purpose? What is your highest purpose?
- In your unit, what is your highest purpose?
- In your unit, when did you last engage in purpose driven, unconventional actions?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?